The Renegade Rip

The dark past of gay rights

J.R. Hensley

J.R. Hensley

J.R. Hensley, Photo Editor

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There is a documentary I’m certain I’ve mentioned before, probably from when I got back from my husband’s and my trip to New York City, however, even if I have, I will do so again because it was an incredible film. It’s called “Before Stonewall.” It recounts, from first and second hand stories, the lives of gays and lesbians before the 1980’s, until the riots that brought about the gay rights movement.

The world explained therein, for me, paints this picture of America that seemed almost accepting, especially during WWII. One former marine tells her story of how her commander instructed her to root out women suspected of lesbianism, and when she told him that she would have to first turn herself in and almost all the girls in her platoon, he rescinded the order. The film’s follow up is “After Stonewall.” This particular feature is hard for me to watch because it’s when the almost cotton candy story, given to me in the first half, is turned sour from the horror that was the AIDS crisis.

The 80’s was such a tumultuous time for the gay community. This unknown disease claimed so many lives that one person in “After Stonewall” said he went to a friend’s funeral once a week until everyone he had known had died. For the life of me, I could and can never imagine what it’s like to lose the ones you love in such quick succession. That is why it is astounding to me that so many people have no idea that there is a “cure” for HIV. I put it in quotes because it’s not really a cure (but kinda) but more of a barrier from contracting the virus, when exposed to the disease. I liken it to gay birth control. Truvada is used much the same way, but instead of keeping one from getting pregnant, it keeps the user safe from a deadly disease. Although some could say they’re one in the same. I’m kidding. I joke. I tease.

Taken once daily, at the same time, will keep the person from contracting HIV, even if they have unprotected sex with someone that has the virus. Which means, that couples where one is positive and the other is not have the option of condom-less intercourse (my that sounds clinical). That kind of activity isn’t recommended but it is an option.

My cousin-in-law, one of those that emerged from the AIDs crisis unscathed, travels the country giving talks about PrEP. He was one that experienced the loss of his friends to the disease. I imagine that’s one of the reasons he gives the speeches. Now, with HIV diminished from its previous numbers the community can return to that “golden age” I spoke of from “Before Stonewall.”

For the past two semesters acceptance was my world. I was given the chance to write about my life as a gay man without worry someone would turn me into the police or brand me a degenerate. I even won an award for one of them. (Third place if you’re curious. I was beaten out by TWO columns about Colin Kaepernick. I’m not at all bitter.) I will miss it and anyone that happened to read my little column. This will be my “Before <insert whatever I accomplish here>.”

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The dark past of gay rights